Cappella Romana's Peter Michaelides: The Divine Liturgy of St. John Chrysostom is a recording of an amazing, latter-day manuscript discovery: a complete Greek liturgy in the English language from 1960 by Greek-born American composer Peter Michaelides. Michaelides had studied with Ingolf Dahl and Halsey Stevens at USC and had composed his Liturgy using simple, quartal-, or quintal-based harmonies and long stretches of Byzantine chant translated into English. This manuscript had lain unpublished, and apparently unperformed, in the attic of the Holy Trinity Greek Orthodox Church in Portland, OR, when it was discovered in the early '90s by the leader of Cappella Romana, Alexander Lingas. Lingas discovered that the composer was still living in New Mexico in retirement after a long career spent in teaching; this disc, released on Cappella Romana's own label, is tangible fruit of this rediscovery.
Although superficially Michaelides' Divine Liturgy might sound like an obvious forerunner of high holy minimalism -- particularly that of John Tavener -- the sound of it is pure West Coast; cool, transparent harmonies and an unhurried approach to both rhythm and the overall form of the work. Later in the 1960s, Michaelides shifted his stylistic focus to a more international style in line with what Penderecki and Xenakis were doing. However, in 1960 he was closely allied with the Greek Orthodox church in California and would remain so until his departure to teach at the University of Northern Iowa. Nevertheless, Michaelides composed this monumental 66-minute work and it wasn't used in services at first light given that it was in English and the musical style was a little too unorthodox for churches of that day, despite its concision and obvious devotional content. For English speakers, a source of delight will be the English reciting/chanting of the liturgical text; for once, one can understand the text without having to read it out of the booklet -- though this is supplied -- and the listener can appreciate the stylization of the readings; instead of looking at one's watch during the Scriptus, one can hear the reading from Luke given in breathlessly rapid-fire English. Others, however, might run out of patience with the heavy amount of recited text in this recording; nevertheless, it is essential as the choral parts almost constantly intersect with the stream of recitative.
This is a fascinating disc; usually when a new, revelatory music manuscript is turned up, the composer is long dead. In this case, Michaelides is able to witness the fruits of his handiwork some 40 years after he laid it to rest; it is likely easier now to appreciate what an original and visionary conception this was from the standpoint of the 21st century than it would have been at anytime in the 20th. The choral singing -- relaxed and faithful to the extremely restrained resources of the musical text -- from Cappella Romana is just right, along with the hard work handling all of the spoken and semi-sung texts by Rev. Archpriest George A. Gray III, domestikos Mark Powell, and Lingas himself, serving as the reader.